Mama talks... control

“If you have a problem that can be fixed, then there is no use in worrying. If you have a problem that cannot be fixed, then there is no use in worrying.” Buddha

Lots of mamas say to me that they want to feel more ‘in control’ of their lives. Too often, we truly believe that’s what we want - I have tried to convince myself of it so many times in an effort to feel somehow safer, more capable, more connected. But clinging on to all the things that we cannot control or fix in this world, is futile, stressful and exhausting. The kids will get sick, they will struggle with friendships, they will share excruciating family truths in public, they will make choices we don't agree with, and sometimes, they will get deeply hurt. And there’s nothing we can do about any of it, but just love them through it.

So we think we want control, but what we actually want is to feel more calm, more at peace and more able to trust the natural flow of things. We want to be able to choose where to focus our time and energy, without constantly rehashing the past, worrying about the future, or dissecting what everyone else is doing. What I would trade for all the precious time and energy I have wasted on those things.

This week we’re hearing from the magnificent Claudia Waterson (freelance writer, former magazine editor and busy London mama of two) who, like so many of us, knows a thing or two about what it is to try and control every aspect of our family lives. But she’s here to tell us that it’s not control we’re after. It’s realising, once and for all, that the kids don’t want us to be perfect. They just want us to be totally imperfectly here with them, right now. When we’re trying to control our world, we’re always somewhere else. So it’s time to come home, strap in and enjoy the ride.

The C Word: possibly the dirtiest word in your mothering vocabulary

No matter how much we desire it, and believe on some level that it is the secret to aceing our parenting game, control has an annoying way of alluding – and tripping up – the mothers of the world (who, BTW, are strong, capable and doing the best they can at this mothering malarkey). With the same determination we muster in order to bundle a fractious (disturbingly slippery?!) child into a buggy, we also dream of gaining control over, well, just about everything in our lives. Because once we have control, we will be successful, effective, unflappable parents… we will worry less and achieve more. We will make only The Right Decisions. We will feel utterly fulfilled. Our children will be rosy cheeked and nourished. Not only emotionally but physically, because we will have found the time after a long working day – and an hour’s commute nestled blissfully under the armpit of a stranger – to whip up a homemade sweet potato and okra stew…

Or there’s the alternative. Otherwise known as Real Life.

Yep, it’s probably time to wake up and smell the okra-speckled baby poop. In short: control does not equal contentment. Perfection does not bring peace of mind. Joy cannot to be found in an immaculate home, your child’s 100% organic diet or an outstanding school report. By striving for, and holding on to, unrealistic parenting ideals (set by who? Ourselves? Our peers? Our parents?), we’re setting ourselves up for, gulp, feelings of hideous inadequacy and failure. Which simply feed our desire to control everything; which results in feelings of inadequacy – and so the cycle of mega-bummed-out parenting continues.

Abort, abort!

Because the truth is, while we’re busy focussing on what we shoulda-woulda-coulda achieve if only we were perfectly tuned mumbots, we’re missing out on the mad, spontaneous, hilarious and totally bloody beautiful experience that is motherhood.

When I had my first child, my partner’s very cool, Californian uncle gifted me the book ‘Someday’ by Alison McGhee. It’s a short, illustrated tale of a mother imagining her child’s life experiences from birth to childhood, adulthood to motherhood, and beyond. It is a celebration of a mother’s love, and the joy she takes in watching her child grow. And it never fails to make me cry. At its heart is the message that the circle of life flows regardless. Gratitude – even for the smallest things (like one day watching your grown-up daughter comb her own child’s hair, as in McGhee’s book) – can open our eyes to the wonder of this nuts journey that we’re on. And we can see it for what it is: bloody amazing and a total privilege. Yeah, kids smell a bit funny quite a lot of the time, have zero respect for furniture, and can really press our buttons (daily red mist, anyone?) – but, God, don’t they just fill our hearts with love?

The real secret to aceing the parenting game? Perspective. Maybe the greatest lesson to be learnt is from our children; they don’t want total control or desire unrealistic ideals – they simply want to go on this crazy ride with YOU – their wonderful, funny, loving mother, in all your gloriously perfect imperfection.

~ Claudia Waterson ~